A French judge visited Mali in February to investigate the 2013 deaths of RFI journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon but was unable to visit Kidal, the site of the murders, a group dedicated to their memory was told at a meeting on Saturday.
Dupont, a reporter, and Verlon, a reporting technician, worked for RFI (Radio France Internationale), FRANCE 24’s sister station. They were in Kidal in northern Mali covering the country’s legislative elections when they were kidnapped and murdered on November 2, 2013.
Jean-Marc Herbaut, the French judge investigating the killings, traveled to the capital Bamako on February 5 to work with his Malian counterparts, the Friends of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon group was told at a meeting in Paris on Saturday. For security reasons, he was unable to go to Kidal.
"The judge has been able to talk to local officials," said FRANCE 24 reporter Nicholas Rushworth, who was at the meeting. "He’s been able to talk to people who were witnesses there."
"He’s learned that one of the suspects in the case has died in recent months," Rushworth continued. "Also, he was able to obtain new phone data and phone recordings that could be useful for the investigation. So, for the Friends here, [there is] some sense of movement after many years of frustration."
None of the alleged perpetrators have been arrested and no concrete progress had been made in the inquiry.
“We’re asking the same questions and still getting no response,” Christophe Boisbouvier, an RFI journalist and a member of the Friends of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, had said before the meeting.
Most of the documents related to the case are classified or were heavily redacted. In the absence of official information, several hypotheses have been put forward to try and explain the killings. For example, a report on the TV news network France 2 in January 2017 suggested they were an act of revenge for an unpaid ransom related to the release of French hostages kidnapped by an al Qaeda affiliate in neighbouring Niger who were freed in October 2017. French judge Herbaut has dismissed this theory.
Another hypothesis that has been put forward was that the kidnapping went wrong and that the militants murdered the two journalists without planning to, after a vehicle broke down or a surprise helicopter patrol emerged.
Another obstacle for the investigation is that it remains impossible for the French and Malian investigators to look at the scene of the crime in Kidal. Malian authorities are only now returning to the city, which was until recently controlled by armed groups.